Monday, October 31, 2011

In the Gallery -- November 2011

Portraiture and Cross Stitch Adorn November's Art Gallery

As raw blustery breezes bend naked branches earthward, November bursts forth in celebration of the three artists exhibiting in the Library's Mary Bishop Memorial Art Gallery. You will find GRAPHITE & PASTEL PORTRAITTURE by fine artist Kari Rajkumar dancing on the gallery walls. Gallery Display Cases are abloom with A LOVE AFFAIR WITH CROSS STITCH by mother-daughter artists Phyllis Brower & Anne Sexton.

Born in Rantoul, Illinois, Kari Rajkumar moved with her family to Northern Virginia as a toddler and was home schooled there. She received no formal training in art save a few basic drawing classes around 9 or 10. Even at this early age, teachers commented on Kari's talent for realistic drawing and giving her subjects “a natural sense of weight.” At 14, Kari, with her mother and younger brother, relocated to Paris, Illinois where they still live. It wasn't until 2006 that Kari discovered for herself her adeptness at photorealism and began to explore portraiture in earnest, using photographic references and the Grid Method (an Old Master's technique) to achieve greater accuracy in portraying her subjects. In this technique she is self-taught. In 2008, she attended a brief introductory workshop in pastel, where she received only fifteen hours of instruction, half about pastel portraiture. One of Kari's portraits was published in the January/February 2010 issue of The Artist's Magazine, winning third Place (Student/Beginner Division) in their Annual Art Competition. Her work also received “Best of Show” at the 2010 October National In Decatur, IL. Most recently, her graphite portrait “Scott” received second place in Southwest Art Magazine's annual “21 Under 31” international competition and was subsequently published in their September 2011 issue. Kari has often been invited to conduct classes in area schools and art centers, and occasionally offers private lessons in her home. She also accepts portraiture commissions in pencil and pastel with the ultimate goal of working in oils. Kari is a member of the Board of Directors at the Paris Art Center in Paris, IL and is a member of the Portrait Society of America. Further information is available on Kari's website at

Through all the stages of Anne Sexton's life, her mother, Phyllis Brower, was a constant source of support, example and friendship. As a little girl, Anne remembers sitting next to her mom as she painstakingly taught her to knit, sew, embroider, and cross stitch. She thoroughly enjoyed the lessons, both because she loved to create beautiful things, but more importantly because as long as the lessons continued she could remain close to her mom and her mom to her. Both Anne and Phyllis had an affinity for counted cross stitch, a popular form of counted thread embroidery. Counted cross stitch uses a pattern printed on paper laid out on a grid; the cloth remaining unmarked. The embroiderer must count across as well as up and down, to know precisely where to place the stitches. Using floss, x-shaped stitches are created one at a time to form a design or picture. Although cross stitch is often executed on easily countable even-weave fabric aida cloth, Anne and her mother preferred using linen with 22 to 28 stitches per inch. Ultimately counted cross stitch pieces are executed for the intrinsic sense of accomplishment they provide, for the joy they brings to the beneficiary, and for the sense of comfort provided in homes. Anne and her mom initially produced work that was predominantly reproductions of historical samplers. Working a sampler was a common occurrence for seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century schoolgirls and women to learn stitches, techniques, and elements of needlework design. A girl who was expected to go into service had to learn to mark her mistress's linens with family initials mend clothing. Girls in higher ranks of society were expected to impress potential husbands with prowess at needlework, as exemplified by her sampler. Phyllis and Anne often created samplers to celebrate births, commemorate marriages, and denote name etymology. As Anne and Phyllis increased their skills, their interests broadened and they sought more challenging work. The challenges were usually determined by the count of the fabric, the intricacy of the design, and the introduction of new techniques. “A shared love of ours was tweeding”, Anne says, “a technique where two or more colors of thread are used in the same needle at the same time to give depth and a subtle blend of color to the finished piece. Father Winter, a work that required three years to complete, is an excellent example of the use of tweeding. In 2007, Anne's mother Phyllis Brower passed away leaving Anne surrounded by her love. Her kindness and patience created a legacy that Anne will hold in her heart forever. There are days when Anne longs for one more moment, one more conversation, one more glimpse of her mom's beautiful face and gentle hands. In those moments, Anne feels Phyllis' presence in the heartfelt memories manifesting themselves through her own hands.

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